Why is Sleep so Important
Today, in the United States people are busier than ever before, causing a lack of proper sleep habits. We live in a World that is constantly moving and changing, and can seem near impossible to keep up with. Add to that the rise in consumer electronic screen time, usually occupied by scrolling your Twitter feed, looking at your latest Instagram posts, or checking up on friends and family on Facebook, and you have a recipe for a in-conducive sleep environment.
In recent years there has been more of a push to understand and educate others on the importance of getting proper sleep regularly. By now, it’s no secret that getting enough sleep is essential to maintaining optimal health and well being. Poor sleeping habits have been linked to numerous health conditions such as; increased BMI, impaired emotional regulation and stability, weakened immune system, as well as lead to symptoms of depression. There have been several benefits linked to getting a good night’s rest. Sleep helps the body to repair, regenerate, and recover. Research has linked sleep to several brain functions including memory, performance, and cognition.
Getting enough sleep is essential to maintaining optimal health and well being because sleep helps the body repair, regenerate, and recover.
Research suggest that failure to get adequate sleep can impair emotional regulation and stability, alter neural processes, and can even lead to experiencing symptoms of depression. The human sleep cycle is broken into different stages. There are important biological process that occur during each stage.
The Four Stages of Sleep
Stage 1 | NREM (Light sleep)
Stage 1 usually accounts for 5% of total sleep and, occurs when a individual transitions from a state of wakefulness to sleep.
In this stage, an individuals heart rate, brain activity, eye movement, and breathing begin to slow. Their muscles relax, with the occasional twitching.
Stage 2 | NREM (Deeper sleep)
Typically, individuals spend about 45% of their total sleep time in stage 2, which occurs as an individuals muscles further relax.
In this stage the individuals body temperature drops and their eye movement stops. Their brain-wave activity slows while simultaneously experiencing short burst of electrical activity. These bursts are know as sleep spindles.
Stage 3 | NREM (Deepest sleep)
Stage 3 accounts for about 25% of an individuals total sleep time and, is the deepest stage of sleep.
In this stage, an individuals brain activity, heart rate, and breathing slow to their lowest levels, and the muscles are completely relaxed. This stage is also when the body begins to repair itself, strengthen the immune system, regrowing tissues, and building bone and muscle. This is the stage that leaves a person feeling refreshed after waking up, and is the hardest stage to awaken from.
Stage 4 | REM (Dreaming)
The REM stage accounts for around 25% of total sleep time and usually begins about an hour and a half after an individual falls asleep.
This stage is typically where an individuals dreams and nightmares take place.
Each REM cycle lasts about 10 minutes to an hour, a person’s eyes move rapidly from side to side while the eyelids remain closed, and heart rate and breathing begin to increase. The Individuals brain is far more active however their arm and leg muscles become paralyzed preventing the individual from acting out their dreams or nightmares.
Benefits of Sleep
Increased Cognitive Function
During sleep our brains and able to repair and recover while are memory is able to do a reset. This gives us the ability to focus and learn new things.
Sleep helps to refresh our minds and bodies limiting are risk of things like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders.
Decreased Blood Pressure
As we sleep our blood pressure decreases. However, the less sleep we get the more time our blood pressure spend in an elevated state which can cause health issues over time
Regulates Blood Sugar
During sleep the amount of glucose stored in the blood is decreased.
Boosts Immune System
During sleep our bodies are better able to fight off infections. Lack of sleep fatigues our fighter cells making them slower to respond to infections and bacterial attacks.
Sleep Benefits for Athletes
Common Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is the chronic inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Symptoms of Insomnia include:
There are two forms of Insomnia; acute, and chronic.
Acute Insomnia – Insomnia typically lasting a few days or weeks, usually the result of stress or a traumatic event.
Chronic Insomnia – Insomnia lasting for a month or more.
Insomnia can be the primary health concern, or it may be the symptom of another medical condition, or medications. It’s always best to seek advice from a medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders.
Insomnia can either be a primary health concern or a symptom of a bigger medical condition. It is recommended to always seek advice from a licensed medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. There are many methods used to diagnose insomnia.
Sleep Habits Review
During a Sleep Habits Review your physician will ask you sleep-related questions, and in addition may have you complete a questionnaire to evaluate your sleeping patterns and your level of daytime sleepiness.
If the cause of your insomnia is unknown, your physician may perform a physical exam to assist in diagnosing medical problems that may be associated with your insomnia.
> In some cases a blood test may be done to check for other medical conditions that may be associated with poor sleep.
If you are displaying signs of another sleep disorder, or the cause of your insomnia isn’t clear you may be asked to spend a night at a sleep center where tests are ran to monitor and record your body activities ( brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, body movements, and eye movements.) during sleep.
There are various methods that medical professionals use in order to treat Insomnia.
Over-the-counter Sleep Aids
The primary drug in over-the-counter sleep aids is antihistamine, which can make you drowsy but are not intended for regular use. Therefore those suffering from chronic insomnia may want to look into a different form of treatment. Always consult your primary care physician before taking any new medications.
Your Doctor may prescribe you sleep medication that can help you not only go to sleep but stay asleep. Although long-term use is generally not recommended, there have been several medications approved for long-term use.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia
Cognitive behavioral therapy also known as CBT-I
Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by the brain’s inability to control sleep-wake cycles.
Individuals with narcolepsy typically find it difficult to stay awake for long periods of time. They tend to experience many sleep interruptions leaving them feeling sleepy throughout the day.
Narcolepsy can drastically affect and individual day to day living.
What are the types of narcolepsy?
There are two major types of narcolepsy:
The symptoms of Narcolepsy vary and can be very dangerous if left untreated.
Symptoms may improve over time however they will never fully go away.
Causes of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy can result from various different causes. More research is needed to understand the causes of Narcolepsy, however, research does suggest that it is the result of various things working together which creates a lack of hypocretin.
Hypocretin is a neuropeptide hormone that is produced in the hippocampus. It is responsible for important regulation of sleep and arousal states.
Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition and individuals suffering from it are often misdiagnosed with other conditions. In some cases it can take years for someone to be given a proper diagnosis.
Although there is no cure for narcolepsy, some of the symptoms can be treated with medicines and lifestyle changes. When cataplexy is present, the loss of hypocretin is believed to be irreversible and lifelong. Excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy can be controlled in most individuals with medications.
Not everyone with narcolepsy can consistently maintain a fully normal state of alertness using currently available medications. Drug therapy should accompany various lifestyle changes. The following strategies may be helpful:
Safety precautions, particularly when driving, are important for everyone with narcolepsy. People with untreated symptoms are more likely to be involved in automobile accidents although the risk is lower among individuals who are taking appropriate medication.
EDS and cataplexy can lead to serious injury or death if left uncontrolled. Suddenly falling asleep or losing muscle control can transform actions that are ordinarily safe, such as walking down a long flight of stairs, into hazards.
Sleep Apnea is a sleep condition that results in shallow breathing and momentarily interrupted breathing which causes snoring or snorting. Individuals with sleep apnea can also experience daytime sleepiness due to the constant sleep interruption and not feeling “fully rested”. There are many forms of treatment for individuals suffering from sleep apnea.
There are two forms of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, and central sleep apnea.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Occurs when an individuals airway becomes blocked while you sleep, resulting in a reduction or complete stop of airflow. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of of sleep apnea.
Health conditions such as large tonsils, obesity, and anything that could narrow your airway can increase your risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
Central Sleep Apnea
Occurs when an individuals brain fails to send the signals needed to breathe.
Health conditions that affect how your brain controls your airway and chest muscles can increase your risk central sleep apnea.
There are a few methods used to diagnose sleep apnea. Your primary health care provider may refer you to a sleep disorder facility for testing after making an evaluation based on your sleep history and symptoms.
Often times a sleep evaluation involves sleeping in the sleep disorder facility overnight while being monitored. The tests to detect sleep apnea include; Home sleep tests, and Nocturnal Polysomnography.
Home Sleep Test
These tests usually measure your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. Your provider is more likely to recommend polysomnography in a sleep testing facility, rather than a home sleep test, if central sleep apnea is suspected.
During this test, you’re hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart, lung and brain activity, breathing patterns, arm and leg movements, and blood oxygen levels while you sleep.
Symptoms that may be noticed by your significant other:
Symptoms you may notice yourself:
Children with sleep apnea may be overactive and may even experience bed-wetting, inability to focus, and worsened asthma symptoms. Your health care provider will ask about your current symptoms, medical history, and family medical history to determine the best form of treatment.
Your healthcare provider may ask you to see a sleep specialist or go to a center for a sleep study, which can help diagnose which form of sleep apnea you have.
A sleep diary can help you keep track of how long and how well you sleep, as well as how sleepy you feel during the day. Assessing these details can help your healthcare provider diagnose your condition.
Ruling out other medical conditions
Your provider may order other tests to help rule out other medical conditions that can cause sleep apnea.
Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS also known as Willis-Ekbom disease is a condition characterized by the uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually due to an uncomfortable sensation. RLS can occur at any age and usually progresses with age. Symptoms of RLS can disrupt sleep and interfere with and individuals daily living activities.
Individuals typically experience these symptoms in the evening hours while sitting or lying down, Moving tends to ease the unpleasant feeling, however only temporarily. Some individuals suffering from RLS have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Abnormalities in the neurotransmitter dopamine have often been associated with RLS.
The primary symptom of RLS is the urge to move the legs. Other accompanying symptoms include:
The sensations associated with RLS are often described as unpleasant, crawling, throbbing, itching, pulling, electric sensation that occur within the limb and usually occurs on both sides of the body.
Certain events or activities may worsen symptoms.
There is no specific test for RLS, therefore, the condition is diagnosed by a doctor’s evaluation.
Generally there is no cause for RLS, however scientist have discovered a genetic component that can be found in families where the onset of symptoms takes place before the age of 40. Some evidence also suggest that low iron levels in the brain may be a risk factor and cause of RLS.
There has been reasonable evidence that suggests RLS may be related to a dysfunction in one of the sections of the brain that in responsible for controlling movement,
The five basic criteria for clinically diagnosing the disorder are:
Treatment for RLS is typically focused on relieving symptoms. RLS symptoms can sometimes be controlled by diagnosing and treating an associated medical condition.
Healthcare providers often combine a medication to help correct the underlying dopamine abnormality along with a medicine to promote sleep continuity in the treatment of RLS. Some health care professionals use iron supplementation or other medications to manage symptoms of RLS.
Other medications known to be effective include;
In addition to these treatments it has been found that making certain lifestyle changes and changing certain activities can provide some relief.
CDC Sleep Recommendations
Newborn |0-3 months | 14-17 hours per day
Infant | 4-12 months | 12-16 hours per day
Toddler | 1-2 years | 11-14 hours per day
Preschool |3-5 years | 10-13 hours per day
School Age | 6-12 years | 9-12 hours per day
Teen | 13-18 years | 8-10 hours per day
Adult |18-60 years | 7 or more hours per day
| 61-64 years| 7 – 9 hours
Elder | 65 years and older | 7-8 hours per day
Building Proper Sleep Habits
Ensuring you are getting adequate sleep is too important to our overall health to continue to be disintrested about it. You need to develop a proper sleep routine and be sure to implement it as soon as possible. Make adjustments to your routine as needed but do start somewhere. Improving your sleep habits will be extremely beneficial to your overall health, especially your mental health. Remember to limit screen time and other distractions before going to bed and be consistent.
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“Cognitive benefits of last night’s sleep” | Feb 2015 | NIH
“Sleep deprivation and obesity in adults: a brief narrative review” | NIH
“Sleep quality and duration are associated with greater trait emotional intelligence” | Jun 3, 2021
“Sleep Inconsistency and Markers of Inflammation” | Sep 16, 2020 | Frontiers in Neurology
Healthy Sleep Habits | SleepEducation.org
“Tips for Better Sleep” | CDC | Sep 12, 2022
“Key Sleep Disorders”| CDC| Dec 14, 2022
“How Much Sleep Do I Need” | CDC | Sep 14, 2022
“Insomnia and the risk of depression” | BMC Psychiatry | Nov 5, 2016
“Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep” | NIH | Sep 26, 2022